Imran Khan has hit a century—and counting. Impressive, given that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s nearest electoral rival, the PML-N, is just 61 and PPP, 40. All provisional numbers, but enough for Imran to declare victory 26 years after he picked up the World Cup as the captain of the Pakistan cricket team. Some of the fears his ascendancy brings were allayed by his presidential style address to the nation. He promised to avoid “political victimisation” (Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law are already incarcerated on corruption charges).
He pitched for “peace talks with India”, solving “Kashmir through dialogue’’, for trade relations and focusing on fighting poverty. Not to miss the promise of a “new Pakistan” based on Jinnah’s vision. Will we get to see a less theocratic state with equal rights for Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and Ahmadis? Well, that will be tested in the coming months and years, when the dust settles and the euphoria of victory evaporates in the face of complicated governance. Khan has the mandate, a stable political formation and the establishment behind him.
But he has his job cut out, given the state of Pakistan’s debt-ridden economy. With the fiscal and current account deficits looming large, and a balance of payments crisis staring him in the face, one of the first things Khan may have to do is negotiate an IMF loan, involving structural diktats that won’t be kind on the people of Pakistan who have chosen him. China’s ‘all-weather friendship’ too has come at a cost, the CPEC work is stalled: Islamabad is not finding it easy to repay the nearly $5 billion debt. All this is not counting the socio-political disorder, the rising menace of radical Islam, the violent, anti-progress orthodoxy with which he broke bread to break into the political firmament.
How will his ‘new Pakistan’ sit with that? Can he create a new future beyond what the ‘miltablishment’—as the coup-prone army headquarters and the ‘deep state’ (a euphemism for ISI) is now being called—wants? Can he be more than a subordinate marionette? Is this change or plus ca change?